Are the KAUST celebrations getting a bit too sweet?
By Matin Durrani
I mentioned in my two blog entries yesterday that the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia is not exactly short of cash – it has a $10bn endowment from the man himself.
One US physicist said he’d heard that the whole inauguration has cost $80m – flying in thousands of guests (including physics Nobel laureates Gerard ‘t Hooft and Chen Ning Yang) putting them up in the best hotels in Jeddah, and giving them all, myself included, nice little luggage tags with the KAUST logo.
A fair whack must have also gone on the fireworks that concluded the official launch party last night, which were probably enough to have kept most physics departments in business for a few years at least.
The event took place in what was dubbed “the tent” – a temporary structure about two football pitches in size with an exhibition hall, auditorium and vast dining area. Air-conditioned to the hilt, the plastic windows dripped with condensation on the outside. A troupe of drummers lined the stage as we waited for the king’s jet to land.
Once settled in his seat, there followed speeches from the likes of the minister for petroleum and KAUST’s president Choon Fong Shih, and then specially recorded films beamed onto the huge backdrop to the stage. One featured a boy on the sunlit beach, picking up stones – presumably a nod to Newton’s comment about just being like a boy on the shores of discovery – backed by rousingly cheesy music.
With the heads of state of Bahrain, Jordan, Malaysia and elsewhere — not to mention the Duke of York (aka Prince Andrew) — sitting alongside him, the King then mounted the stage, delivering a thankfully short address, which should soon be available here.
The drummers marched off stage right while the king pressed his hand into a weird tablet that shot out a puff of smoke in green-and-white Saudi colours. The back wall of the stage parted – and there, through the windows, was the university and its iconic tower lit up against the night sky
“It’s like Disneyland” muttered one physicist later to me.